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Mozart´s second visit to Prague, autumn 1787

In October 1787 Mozart arrived in Prague with the excellent librettist Da Ponte. Mozart was to premiere his new opera Don Giovanni. The composer and the poet were lodged near the Nostitz Theatre. Mozart stayed at The Three Golden Lions (today Uhelný trh 1/420) and Da Ponte across the street at The Flounder Inn on the same floor so they could see into each other's windows.

Later Mozart stayed at the villa Bertramka with his friends, the excellent singer Josepha Duschek and her husband, the composer Franz Xaver Duschek, where he remained until his departure. He was finishing large parts of Don Giovanni there – among others the finale and the whole overture. Before leaving Prague he composed a big concert aria Bella mia fiamma – addio… for Josepha. The moments spent at the Bertramka belonged among of the most beautiful ones in his life.

During one of his walks in the neighbourhood together with Josepha Duschek he visited the Strahov Monastery, famous for its musical tradition and its first rate organ. Mozart expressed his wish to hear the organ and then played it himself. The organist Norbert Lehmann, who was present there, later remembered: "Then Mozart developed a theme from a fugue from Brixi´s Requiem in C minor in a totally new manner and so skilfully that it left the listeners petrified."

The second visit to Prague though was mostly devoted to the premiere of Don Giovanni. The preparations of such a demanding work were not without problems. next 1... next 2... next 3... The performance of Don Giovanni on 29 October 1787 was a triumph. It proved the high musical and cultural qualities of people in Bohemia at that time. The success of the opera, which at most foreign theatres met only with misunderstanding during the composer's life next 5... ,could only be compared to the success of Le nozze di Figaro.

There were people, though, who did appreciate Mozart's genious. A letter arrived in Prague in December 1787 from the composer Joseph Haydn, who had been asked to compose a new opera for Prague: "I would have to be much more daring because hardly anyone can match the great Mozart... If only I could press the inimitable works of Mozart onto the souls of the mighty of this world as deeply as I feel them, nations would compete to have such a jewel within their own walls. May Prague keep the dear man. May Prague reward him as much as he rewards us."

Three weeks after the first performance of Don Giovanni Mozart left Prague to return to Vienna. He hoped Don Giovanni would achieve the same success as it did in Prague and that he would be appointed Kapellmeister at the Viennese court.



Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: To Baron Gottfried von Jacquin, Vienna

Prague, 15th October, 1787

Dearest friend,
You probably imagine that my opera is over by now – but if so you are out a little! In the first place, there is no such able personnel here as at the theatre in Vienna, so that the opera could not be learned in so short a time. In the second place, I found on my arrival that so few preparations had been made that it would have been an impossibility, no less, to give the opera on the 14th, that is yesterday. Accordingly, yesterday, my Figaro was put on in a fully illuminated theatre, and I myself conducted. In this connection I have a good joke to tell you. Certain of the foremost ladies here (one, in particular, of the most illustrious) were pleased to deem it ridiculous, inept, and I know not what else, to present the Princess with Figaro – "That silly piece," as they were pleased to term it. They did not reflect that no opera in the world can exactly suit such an occasion unless very specially written for it, nor that it mattered at all whether this or that opera was put on, so long as it was a good one and unknown to the Princess; and Figaro was certainly this last! In a word, this wire-puller actually talked the Government into forbidding the impresario to give this piece on that night! She was triumphant! "Ho vinta," she cried one evening from her box. She probably had no notion that the ho would be changed into a sono! (Ho vinta – I have conquered: Sono – I am.) Next day, however, Le Noble came, bringing his Majesty's command that if the new opera could not be given Figaro must be! My friend, if only you had seen that lady's lovely haughty nose! Oh, it would have amused you vastly, as it did me! Don Giovanni is now fixed for the 24th.

Oct. 21st: It was fixed for the 24th, but a further delay has been occasioned by the illness of one of the singers. As the company is so small, the impresario is obliged to take all possible care of his people, for fear lest some unforeseen indisposition should put him in the most awkward of all awkward situations – that of being unable to stage anything at all! – There are constant delays here because the singers (being lazy) will not rehearse for opera, and the entrepreneur (being anxious and fearful) will not force them to do so…

25th October.: To-day is the eleventh day I have been scrawling this letter! You will see from this that there is no lack of good will to the task. Whenever I can snatch a moment I pen a few more lines, but I cannot get long at it, for I am too much at other people's disposal and too little at my own. I need hardly tell you so late in the day as this, that this is not the manner of life I would voluntarily choose. The opera is to be performed for the first time next Monday, the 29th. The day after that you shall have an account of it from me. As to the arias, for reasons I will recount when we meet, it is unfortunately impossible for me to send you them. –



Jan Nepomuk Štěpánek: Preface to the first Czech edition of Don Giovanni (1825)

During the first rehearsal on stage it happened that signora Bondini, playing the part of Zerlina, at the end of act one, when Don Juan grabs her, could not, even after several repetitions, utter a cry properly and at the right time. That was why Mozart stepped out from the orchestra, gestured it for another repetition and when the time came he grabbed her strongly so that she was scared and gave a cry. Mozart praised her saying that this had been the right way to exclaim.



Georg Nikolaus von Nissen: Biography of W.A. Mozart

When Mozart rehearsed his opera Don Juan in 1787 for the first time he stopped at Commendatore´s lines: Di rider finirsi etc. and Ribaldo audace etc. which were accompanied by three trombones only because one of the trombonists was not playing his part correctly. The second time was no better so Mozart came up to his music stand and explained how he wished it played. The trombonist, however, replied dryly: ”It is not possible to blow it that way and I am not going to learn it from you, anyway.” Mozart replied with a smile: “God forbid that I should like to teach you to play the trombone. Give me the parts, I am going to change them now.” He did so and added two more oboes, two clarinets and two bassoons. It is remarkable that the look at the manuscript of the score verifies this memory.



Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: To Baron Gottfried von Jacquin, Vienna

Prague, 4th November 1787

My dearest friend!
I hope you have received my letter. – on 29th October my opera Don Giovanni was performed for the first time – and with great success. – Yesterday it was staged for the fourth time (as a benefit performance for me). – I am planning to leave here on the 12th or the 13th – immediately I arrive you will receive the promised aria from me. NB between ourselves – I would like my good friends (especially Bridim and yourself) to spend one single evening here and share my joy! – Perhaps it will after all be performed in Vienna? – I would like that very much! – They are trying in all possible ways here to persuade me to spend several more months here and to write one more opera – but although it is a very complimentary offer for me I am unable to accept it.



Czech and European reactions to the performance of Don Giovanni.
From the „Prager Oberpostamtszeitung“,
3 November 1787

On Monday the 29th the Italian opera company gave the ardently awaited opera by Maestro Mozard, Don Giovani, or das steinerne Gastmahl. Connoisseurs and musicians say that Prague had never yet heard the like. Herr Mozard conducted in person; when he entered the orchestra he was received with threefold cheers, which again happened when he left it. The opera is, moreover, extremely difficult to perform, and every one admired the good performance given is in spite of this after such a short period of study. Everybody, on the stage and in the orchestra, strained every nerve to thank Mozard by rewarding him with a good performance. There were also heavy additional costs, caused by several choruses and changes of scenery, all of which Herr Guardasoni had brilliantly attended to. The unusually large attendance testifies to a unanimous approbation.

Frankfurt on Main, 1789

The piece will soon be past its term here. The music is not popular enough to arouse general interest.

Berlin, 1790

Mozart in his Don Juan wanted to write something extraordinary, something inimitably great, that much is certain, and the extraordinary quality is there, but not the inimitable greatness! Whim, caprice, pride, but not the heart created Don Juan…

Munich, 1791

The performance of the opera was banned by censorship. The measure had to be cancelled by the Elector of Bavaria.

Berlin, 1791

No, beloved man! Be less cruel in future towards thine amiable Muse! Seek to extend the halls of thy fame upon pillars before which the upright man is pleased to tarry and which the honest maiden may pass without a blush!


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